Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 17, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Tikrit remains stalled, more documentation of human rights abuses (War Crimes) by Iraqi forces and militias, we explore Hillary Clinton's lies and lack of transparency on Iraq while she was Secretary of State, and much more.

Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008 and lost to Barack Obama.  It's thought that she will announce her intent to seek her party's nomination again in the immediate future.  Currently, she's in the midst of yet another scandal.  Dan Epstein (USA Today) notes:

Six years ago today, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a memo on the Freedom of Information Act to the entire Department of State. It stated that "Preserving the record of our deliberations, decisions, and actions will be at the foundation of our efforts to promote openness."
So much for that. Today, we know that Clinton took extraordinary steps to prevent any record of her "deliberations, decisions, and actions." During her entire tenure as Secretary of State, she exclusively utilized a private email account run through servers located at her home in Chappaqua, New York. This arrangement prevented the federal government from maintaining any record of her email communications — a slap in the face to anyone who cares about government transparency and an obvious example of hypocrisy given the memo Clinton sent to her staff in 2009.

Hillary at first attempted to respond with a Tweet and then held a ridiculous 'press conference' in which she was far from forthcoming.  Lauren Carroll (PolitiFact) finds the claims put forward by Hillary less than convincing and notes Daniel Metcalfe's reactions (Metcalfe was over the Justice Depart's FOIA):

Metcalfe pointed to Clinton's use of the word "allowed" and "opted" throughout her news conference, when referring to her decision to use private email. He said both words give the false impression that the law and its proper implementation presented her with a choice. She might have been "allowed" to use only a private email account in that no one stopped her, Metcalfe said, but that's not the same thing as lawfully complying with rules.

 As Isaiah notes in The World Today Just Nuts "Trustful Hillary," what you're left with is Hillary insisting "trust me" while she has her fingers crossed behind her back.

Hillary's e-mails may or may not have something to do with Benghazi.

Already, you can argue they do because Secretary of State John Kerry was unaware of any e-mail problem in the first months of assuming the post and repeatedly told Congressional Committees, under oath, that all e-mails had been reviewed by State and handed over to Congress.

But Benghazi isn't the main issue at present.

The issue is Hillary's refusal to follow rules that govern others, rules that allow for accountability and transparency.

She wants to be president.

She just doesn't believe in democracy or open government.

Her failure to follow the guidelines with regards to e-mails goes to the lying and obstruction that were key to her tenure as Secretary of State.

What marked her four years of State Dept?

Her refusal to allow oversight.

The best example of that was she failed to demand an Inspector General.

She was in Charge of the State Dept for four years and, for four years, there was no Inspector General.

In his first encounter with Congress as Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about the lack of one and he stated his beliefs in the need for oversight and that he was working with the administration on the issue.  He followed up on those words and the State Dept finally once again had an Inspector General.

Hillary doesn't want oversight.

Hillary doesn't want accountability.

She believes she should be able to operate in secret -- as evidenced by her failed efforts at healthcare in 1993.

Let's drop back to  2006, when she was then Senator Hillary Clinton.

June 15, 2006, then-Senator Russ Feingold's office issued the following:

Amendment to Defense Bill Would Strengthen the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction In Charge of
Monitoring Billions of U.S. Taxpayer Dollars

Today, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment offered by Senator Russ Feingold to strengthen the watchdog agency he helped create, which monitors the spending of reconstruction funding in Iraq. Feingold's amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill would extend the life of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to ensure that all U.S. taxpayer dollars supporting Iraq reconstruction are being used efficiently and effectively. Earlier this year, Feingold filed an identical amendment to the emergency supplemental appropriations bill but was unable to get a vote on that amendment.
"We need strong oversight of the tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent in Iraq," Feingold said. "This is a common-sense amendment in support of an office that has proven vital in identifying fraud and waste. American taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going in this costly war and that it is being used effectively and efficiently."

Feingold was instrumental in creating the watchdog office of the Special Inspector. The SIGIR's work to date has been extremely valuable to the U.S. government and to Congress. The SIGIR has now completed over 55 audit reports, issued over 165 recommendations for program improvement, and has seized over $13 million in assets. Overall, the SIGIR estimates that its operations have resulted in savings of $24 million. The SIGIR's work has also resulted in the arrest of five individuals who were defrauding the U.S. government, and has shed light on tens of millions of dollars of waste. 

Hillary voted for it and favored it.

As Senator Clinton, she strongly believed the SIGIR needed to exist and needed to provide oversight.

Yet as Secretary of State, she believed and behaved completely different.

Which is why, five years later, senators on both sides of the aisle were compelled to release an open letter to Hillary:

WASHINGTON - Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) has the needed access to information and documents.

The Senators believe Department of State is contesting the clear authorities Congress granted SIGIR to carry out its audits with complete access to necessary information and without impediments from any department. Congress and federal agencies rely on Inspectors General to conduct timely audits and inspections of federal programs to ward off waste and mismanagement.
The text of the letter to Secretary Clinton follows:

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

October 31, 2011

Dear Madam Secretary:

We are writing to urge you to ensure that officials of the Department of State comply with lawful requests by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for information and documents.
SIGIR has broad access to information that may assist it to perform its duties. According to the law that established the office, SIGIR is required to “conduct, supervise, and coordinate audits and investigations of the treatment, handling, and expenditure of amounts appropriated or otherwise made available to the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, and of the programs, operations, and contracts carried out utilizing such funds.”
The State Department is explicitly directed to provide whatever information or assistance is needed by SIGIR, so long as SIGIR’s request is “practicable and not in contravention of any existing law.” In addition, State Department officials are prohibited from “prevent[ing] or prohibit[ing] the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit” related to funds involved in Iraq reconstruction.
Despite these requirements, the State Department has failed to provide SIGIR with adequate assistance and access to information and documents. On August 3, 2011, SIGIR notified Congress and the State Department that the Department’s lack of cooperation with its requests was impairing SIGIR’s ability to perform audits of the Department’s use of private security contractors and the Police Development Program.
The State Department has justified these denials on two grounds: that the information requested is outside of SIGIR’s jurisdiction and that the requests overlap with work done by other government auditors. In testimony before the Committee on September 21, 2011, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management, asserted that SIGIR’s requests for information about contracts used by the State Department to protect State Department personnel were outside the scope of SIGIR’s jurisdiction, which is limited to Iraq reconstruction funds. Mr. Kennedy also stated that the subject matter of SIGIR’s requests had already been widely addressed by other government auditors, including the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.
These assertions are deeply troubling. First, SIGIR has jurisdiction to audit all Iraq reconstruction funds, including those spent on contracts which may also support other State Department activities. The State Department has an affirmative obligation to comply with all lawful and practicable requests made by SIGIR in support of their work. Under the law, the Department must provide whatever information SIGIR legitimately requests, not merely whatever information the Department deems appropriate.
Second, even if the Department concludes that SIGIR has not coordinated its audits with other Inspectors General, the law does not provide the Department authority to impede such audits. In the present matter, however, SIGIR has already coordinated the audits of the PDP and private security contractors with the Inspector General of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
We believe that this unwarranted obstruction of SIGIR will weaken an important oversight tool for the taxpayers and obstruct your own efforts at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department. Therefore, we request that you direct your officers to comply with all lawful current and future requests from SIGIR for documents and information it may require.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Senator Joseph Lieberman
Senator Susan Collins
Senator Claire McCaskill
Senator Tom Coburn
Senator Lindsey Graham

Hillary's e-mails are a pattern of secrecy and lies that mark her tenure as Secretary of State.  Patrick Kennedy was Hillary's right arm and he lied repeatedly to Congress on behalf of the State Dept.  For just one example, let's drop back to the June 29, 2012 snapshot covering the June 28, 2012 House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Committee hearing.

 Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
 second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
 college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
lose without compensation all of those facilities?

Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
 in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
 former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

In the second panel, Patrick Kennedy's claims would be refuted.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?

Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
 But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
agreements or leases. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
 that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

How much taxpayer money was wasted by the State Dept turning over facilities to the Iraqi government?

Who can know?

Under Hillary, the State Dept regularly lied and/or obscured reality.

Congress was denied basic information.

This was probably most clear in the November 30, 2012 House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing (covered in the December 1, 2012 snapshot) where the State Dept's Brooke Darby was sent to spin, stall and avoid answering questions.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Madame Deputy Assistant Secretary, welcome. Is it your testimony here today that the State Dept is fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to any and all programs it has oversight and responsibility for in Iraq?
Brooke Darby: We take our responsibility for accountability and cooperation with all of the  audit entities, with Congress very, very seriously.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: No, ma'am, that was not my question.  Is it your testimony that you're fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to those responsibilities?
Brooke Darby: We are absolutely committed to accountability.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Full accountability?  Full transparency and accountability?
Brooke Darby:  I'm not sure -- I'm not sure how you define that so . . .
US House Rep Gerald Connolly:  Well I guess I'm not sure why you avoid the word.  That was my question and you've ducked it three times.  Are we or are we not, is the State Dept committed to full transparency and accountability to the tax payers in the United States and the people who served in Iraq or not?
Brooke Darby:  We absolutely are accountable to the tax payers, to our Congress and to all of the oversight bodies who are looking into how we are spending our dollars, whether our programs are achieving success.  We are absolutely --

US House Rep Gerald Connolly:  Alright. I'll sort of take that as a commitment. 

Also testifying at that hearing was the Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen.  We'll note this exchange.

US House Rep Brian Higgins: Clearly there's a lack of oversight and transparency.  And that problem is seemingly pervasive and growing or least since we've initiated this back in 2003. Why is it that the State Dept would deliberately make efforts to obstruct, efforts to blame greater oversight and transparency?  Why is there that adversarial relationship?  It would seem to me that your efforts would be  to benefit the effective use, efficient use, of American resources in that region because we all have a strategic interest in seeing that region evolve.  Why is it that you suspect that the State Dept is seemingly obstructing those efforts?

Stuart Bowen:  Well it was obstructing. I think we heard today that they are supportive -- almost "fully" supportive --  of our oversight at this stage. And it took an obstruction letter though, Mr. Higgins, as you were pointing to, to break that log-jam. Why?  You know I can't read into the exact motives but I think to a certain extent it was a -- it was a legalistic argument about jurisdiction.

Hillary has clear problems with transparency.  She has clear problems with accountability.

Her e-mail scandal is not a stand alone scandal but part of a broad action to deceive and to avoid accountability while Secretary of State.

A lot of fools (Bob Somerby, for example) and a lot of liars (James Carville) are saying the e-mail scandal doesn't matter.

As a stand alone it matters.  The inability of Hillary to be transparent and open goes against all the principles of a functional democracy.  But this e-mail scandal is yet another example of how she obscured and lied as Secretary of State.

She wants to be president of the United States.

Yet every action as Secretary of State goes to the fact that she doesn't believe in democracy, doesn't believe in accountability and doesn't believe in responsive government.

It is amazing that someone whose obstruction is noted in repeated SIGIR reports is on the verge of announcing her candidacy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

It's even more amazing that the press is completely uninterested in these documented cases detailing her obstructionism and her lying.

And, by the way, there's much more -- many more hearings, many more examples -- that could be cited.  But there are other things we need to cover in this snapshot.

For example, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 369 dead in violence across Iraq today.

And then there's the lies.

What's really sad about Rebecca Collard's report for Time magazine is that it's already got one correction to it since being published yet still features this glaring error: "Although Iraqi forces have been waging war against ISIS in Tikrit for two weeks, the battle to drive the jihadists from the town has come to a stalemate."


They haven't been in Tikrit for two weeks.  It took them 12 days just to get there.  (Some say 11.  The time change can be confusing as we see every year when we have two dates for the start of the Iraq War.)

She's correct about the stalemate, she's just wrong about the timeline.

She's also strangely silent about ABC News' two reports last week on human rights abuses (War Crimes) of Shi'ite forces in Iraq.

 Johnlee Varghese (IBT) does manage to cover what Time can't or won't:

The video released on LiveLeak.com shows the gruesome killing of an Isis prisoner captured by men, reported to be Iraqi soldiers. In the one minute and thirty-six second video, the injured captive is seen being stabbed in the face several times before being decapitated.
[. . .]
On Tuesday, several Iraqi news sources released images of Iraqi special forces torturing and beheading captured Isis militants. The pictures, widely shared on social media, showed Iraqi soldiers posing with disembodied heads and mutilated bodies of the militants.
The images that were released first on the social media allegedly stated that the killings were to avenge the hundreds of Iraqi soldiers killed by the Sunni militant group.

Human Rights Watch has long called out these abuses.  They do so again in a new release which includes:

Militias, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi security forces engaged in deliberate destruction of civilian property after these forces, following US and Iraqi air strikes, forced the retreat of Islamic State fighters (also known as ISIS) from the town of Amerli and surrounding areas in early September 2014, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Iraqi government should rein in the militias and countries participating in the fight against ISIS, including the United States and Iran, should ensure military operations and other related support in the fight against ISIS are not paving the way for such abuses.
The 31-page report,  “After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli,” documents, through field visits, analysis of satellite imagery, interviews with victims and witnesses, and review of photo and video evidence, that militias looted property of Sunni civilians who had fled fighting, burned their homes and businesses, and destroyed at least two entire villages. The actions violated the laws of war. Human Rights Watch also documented the abduction of 11 men during the operation, in September and October.

“Iraq can’t win the fight against ISIS’s atrocities with attacks on civilians that violate the laws of war and fly in the face of human decency,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Militia abuses are wreaking havoc among some of Iraq’s most vulnerable people and exacerbating sectarian hostilities.”

In addition, Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth Tweets: